While Stade Rennais FC have stumbled in recent games in their quest for a top-three finish, revitalised relegation-battlers Nîmes Olympique are looking to make it five straight wins when they take on the Brittany side on Sunday.
Stade Rennais FC v Nîmes Olympique (Sunday at 1700 CET)
Rennes were hanging onto their place on the Ligue 1 Conforama podium after last weekend’s games, when a 1-0 defeat away at Stade de Reims left them only one point better off than LOSC in fourth, not to mention a relatively precarious six points clear of Girondins de Bordeaux down in 10th place.
The Brittany club enjoyed a fine run of form in January and February, and are through to the semi-finals of the Coupe de France in their quest to retain that trophy. However, their league form has hit the skids on a run of three games in which they have failed to score a single goal and have collected only one point.
It seems that the storm caused by the departure of club president Olivier Létang has had some impact on the players, although a hectic schedule through the autumn and winter is perhaps catching up with Julien Stéphan’s team. Rennes have played 18 games in all competitions since the beginning of December, and last weekend the coach decided to leave top scorer M’Baye Niang on the bench along with winger Romain Del Castillo. Adrien Hunou - their second-top league goal-scorer behind Niang on six goals - was not involved at all, while 17-year-old midfield prodigy Eduardo Camavinga has not played in the last two league games.
“I’m not going to talk about third place because there is still a third of the season to go and the first thing we need to do is get our freshness back and get the quality back into our play,” said coach Stéphan after the Reims reverse, as he looked forward to a rare midweek off in the build up to the visit of Nîmes to Roazhon Park. “We have hardly trained in the last month because we have been playing non-stop so I hope we can do some work and improve this week.”
It is clear where Rennes need to improve the most. The Bretons, who will go to AS Saint-Etienne in the Cup semi-finals at the start of next month, have scored just 29 goals in the league this season. Of all the teams in the top 11 coming into the weekend, only Reims (23) had found the net less often. It remains to be seen if US-born striker Jordan Siebatcheu will keep his place after being selected in attack against Reims last time out.
Crocodiles find bite
Rennes won 1-0 away to Nîmes when the sides last met in a rearranged clash last month. However, the Crocodiles have since found a sudden, rich vein of form. Bernard Blaquart’s team won just three of their opening 21 league games and looked odds-on to be relegated at the end of January. However, they have won four matches on the bounce since then, following up wins over AS Monaco (3-1), Dijon FCO (2-0) and OGC Nice (3-1) with a 1-0 success over Angers SCO last weekend, when Moussa Koné grabbed a late winner shortly after coming off the bench at the Stade des Costières.
That result lifted the southern outfit out of the bottom three for the first time since the October international break. They came into this weekend in 17th spot, one point better off than Dijon in the relegation play-off berth and six points clear of Amiens SC in 19th. Survival now looks a realistic possibility, although Blaquart knows they must maintain their current momentum. “We must not stop here. Amiens are not finished yet. We are a long way from being safe. It is going to be an exciting end to the season with a tricky fixture list awaiting us,” he said.
The recent win at Nice was their first away success of the campaign, and the improvement in form has coincided with what looks to have been some inspired business in the January transfer window. Nîmes have won five out of the six games in which Yassine Benrahou, 21, has started since signing on loan from Bordeaux. They have won all four matches since experienced striker Nolan Roux signed for the club after leaving EA Guingamp in Ligue 2. Senegalese attacker Koné has scored two in two appearances off the bench following his transfer from Dynamo Dresden in the German second tier.
“We are still on a good dynamic and we just need to keep it up. It’s vital that we stay focused for the games we have coming up,” Koné told La Provence as he revealed his gratitude for the way in which he has been received by his new team-mates, and the club’s supporters. "I’ve been given a warm welcome here and I am part of the family already. It has really touched me.”
Rennes: Mendy; Traoré, Da Silva (c), Gelin, Léa-Siliki; Raphinha, Bourigeaud, Nzonzi, Tait; Del Castillo, Niang
Nîmes: Bernardoni; Alakouch, Landre, Briançon, Paquiez; Fomba, Sarr; Ripart, Benrahou, Ferhat; Roux